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William Penn Foundation is giving $1.65 million to create a new Delaware River Climate Corps

The money would create a Delaware River Climate Corps to work for the Philadelphia region’s first localized climate resiliency program.

File: The Delaware River at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, Pa. in winter.
File: The Delaware River at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, Pa. in winter.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

The William Penn Foundation announced it has given $1.65 million to establish a Delaware River Climate Corps, the region’s first climate resiliency program that would hire workers from underserved communities and train them in conservation and other green careers.

Organizers hope to have the corps up and running by early 2022 in 10 communities: Philadelphia, Chester, Reading, and Allentown in Pennsylvania; Camden, Bridgeton, Trenton, and Phillipsburg in New Jersey; Wilmington in Delaware; and Hancock in New York.

All communities are within the vast basin that feeds into the 330-mile-long Delaware River.

The organizers also hope the Delaware River Climate Corps would serve as a pilot program under a proposed federal Civilian Climate Corps as part of President Biden’s $1.7 trillion social spending bill. The new local corps could also receive money under the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Biden signed into law in November.

But they’ll establish the program even without those dollars.

The William Penn Foundation program includes $120,000 for each of the 10 communities, with the hope of generating additional funds from other sources.

The local climate corps would provide training, mentoring, and jobs for up to 200 people. It would help advance conservation and climate goals by restoring landscapes and improving energy efficiency. Students would be prepared for careers in forestry, agriculture, solar and energy efficiency.

The cost is estimated at $20,000 to $40,000 per crew member annually for salaries, program management, and other overhead, according to the foundation. That translates to hourly wages of about $10 to $15.

Planning has been underway for six months on the corps, which organizers say would work similarly to AmeriCorps, or the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps that sent workers into rural and wilderness areas to build projects, many of which are still in use nearly a century later.

The Delaware River-focused corps would work with the The Corps Network, a national association of service and conservation corps begun in 1985. The Corps Network will provide individual training and technical assistance.

“As one of the first multi-state Civilian Climate Corps initiatives, we hope the Delaware River Climate Corps will serve as a roadmap for other regions across the country,” said Mary Ellen Sprenkel, president and CEO of The Corps Network.

The Delaware River Climate Corps would place “emphasis on a just and equitable recruitment strategy, going beyond racial diversity to respond to community needs and address systemic barriers,” according to the William Penn Foundation.

The corps would provide jobs in landscaping, horticulture, and home weatherization for young adults aging out of foster care, and formerly incarcerated adults reentering society. Other possible jobs include those in stream and wetlands restorations, environmental mapping and data, green stormwater infrastructure, and rooftop solar installations.

“Recruitment is designed to reach individuals who are motivated to make a positive change regardless of education level or past experience, and statistics show that these career paths are ripe with employment opportunities and are projected to continue growing over the next 10 years,” the foundation said.

The Schultz Family Foundation has already given $250,000, through the state’s PennSERVE program, toward funding the Philadelphia, Chester, Reading, and Allentown programs of the new Delaware River Climate Corps.

“Programs like the Delaware River Climate Corps, and the proposed national Civilian Climate Corps, mark an important step forward for communities and the climate,” said Stuart Clarke, program director for watershed protection at the William Penn Foundation.